The close relationship between Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and anti-human-trafficking activist Tim Ballard appears to have hit a breaking point this week after Ballard was accused of sexual misconduct.
Those allegations prompted Reyes to publicly split with Ballard on Friday morning, with Reyes issuing a statement saying he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the allegations against Ballard. Additionally, Reyes now is withholding his support for Ballard’s — or any other Utahns’ — potential entry into next year’s U.S. Senate race.
Ballard has denied the allegations.
The relationship between Reyes and Ballard has come under renewed scrutiny after the release of documents related to a now-closed criminal investigation into Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad, the anti-trafficking organization he founded.
Reyes and the attorney general’s office responded to a series of questions from The Salt Lake Tribune about several topics, including his longtime relationship with Ballard, the allegations against Ballard over OUR’s business practices, and the revelation that OUR used a psychic during foreign undercover operations.
These questions and answers have been edited for clarity and style. The Tribune’s questions to the attorney general’s office are numbered and in bold:
1) After Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings provided investigative reports from his office and the FBI to the attorney general’s office, what was done with them? Did anyone from the attorney general’s office consider any further investigation? Was the decision made not to pursue the matter? Did AG Reyes recuse himself from that decision? Why or why not?
The AGO [attorney general’s office] kept the reports from Davis County in its file, as it would documents from any other law enforcement agency until that agency’s case is closed. Because there was an open case by Davis County, the AGO did not open its own investigation, nor would it, while another agency was actively conducting its own investigation.
AG [Attorney General] Reyes has been recused since December 23, 2020, from any decisions involving Troy Rawlings’ inquiries to the AGO and his investigation of OUR. Such recusal is routine/justified when the AG might be a witness or has a personal relationship with the target of the investigation.
2) Was Reyes aware of Tim Ballard referencing support from M. Russell Ballard, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Was he aware of the falling out between the two and the cause of that falling out?
AG Reyes is aware of Tim Ballard referencing support of President Ballard for OUR’s efforts. AG Reyes is aware of meetings, phone calls and at least one screening of a film about OUR that President Ballard attended in support of OUR. In AG Reyes’ interactions with President Ballard, he expressed support for Tim and OUR. AG Reyes was unaware that there was ever any fallout between President Ballard and Tim.
3) Was Reyes aware of Ballard’s use of a psychic to provide intelligence during operations? Did he personally see Janet Russon providing operational intel? Did he consider that normal? Is it something he would rely on during an investigation or operation? Is Reyes aware of Tim suggesting that President Ballard had supported, condoned or approved of Janet’s role in operations?
AG Reyes was aware of OUR and some law enforcement agencies’ use of psychic assistance to generate information for operations. He did not personally witness Janet provide operational intel. Such sources are not admissible to directly prove a crime, but on occasion provide helpful information leading law enforcement to useful evidence, including for lost or abducted individuals.
The AGO Investigative Team does not consult with psychic sources. AG Reyes is not aware that Tim has made any representations about Janet and President Ballard.
4) It has been reported that the attorney general’s office has received more than a million dollars in grants from OUR. How has that money been used? Was there concern among Internet Crimes Against Children [ICAC] officers about OUR taking undue credit for their role in trafficking busts?
Over the past six years, the AG office has received a total of $950,000 from OUR and the Malouf Foundation in grant money for Utah’s ICAC Task Force. This money has been dispersed to various agencies across Utah. Primarily the grant money has funded a mental health support program for agents and peace officers, and has provided sorely needed funding to various Utah municipalities, law enforcement agencies and ICAC affiliates.
5) Even after being made aware of the investigative material, Reyes continued to promote Ballard, appear on Ballard’s podcast, and hype up his potential Senate run. Did anything in the investigative material give the attorney general any pause or did Reyes reconsider his support for Ballard? Assuming Ballard runs for Senate, will Sean still be supporting his candidacy?
AG Reyes had no knowledge of the specific contents of the Davis County investigative file because he had been walled off by a screen to recuse himself from any decisions by the attorney general’s office regarding Troy Rawlings’ case since December of 2020.
AG Reyes was never presented with the file, therefore, he did not read any documents from the file. He first read the contents of the file when they were published in VICE News.
Because the U.S. attorney’s office had declined to prosecute in 2023 and Troy Rawlings had closed his case without any charges, AG Reyes had no reason not to promote “Sound of Freedom” or appear on Tim Ballard’s podcast.
No complaints from any alleged victims or witnesses were ever filed at the attorney general’s office regarding OUR or Tim Ballard. Once Rawlings closed his case, the AGO responded under Utah law to a GRAMMA request from VICE News and produced the Davis County file requested by VICE.
6) AG Reyes lists himself as an associate producer on “Sound of Freedom.” What does that entail?
The subject matter of the film was about rescues and work in which AG Reyes personally participated and he consulted with filmmakers Alejandro Monteverde and Eduardo Verastegui during the pre-filming, post-production and promotion of the film. For that work, he was given the title of associate producer but preferred to keep his name out of the film for security and safety reasons.
7) Reyes referred to Ballard as his partner during a recent Utah Republican Central Committee meeting. Can he elaborate on that? What sort of partnership do they have?
Tim is a partner in fighting the global scourge of modern-day slavery — much like other individuals and nongovernmental organization partners of the AG in combating crime.
8) Is Reyes making any money from Sound of Freedom? Does he have a financial stake in the film?
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